Field and laboratory procedures used in a soil chronosequence study

Bulletin 1648
Edited by: Michael J. Singer and Peter Janitzky



In 1978, the late Denis Marchand initiated a research project entitled "Soil Correlation and Dating at the U.S. Geological Survey" to determine the usefulness of soils in solving geologic problems. Marchand proposed to establish soil chronosequences that could be dated independently of soil development by using radiometric and other numeric dating methods. In addition, by comparing dated chronosequences in different environments, rates of soil development could be studied and compared among varying climates and mineralogical conditions. The project was fundamental in documenting the value of soils in studies of mapping, correlating, and dating late Cenozoic deposits and in studying soil genesis. All published reports by members of the project are included in the bibliography.

The project demanded that methods be adapted or developed to ensure comparability over a wide variation in soil types. Emphasis was placed on obtaining professional expertise and on establishing consistent techniques, especially for the field, laboratory, and data-compilation methods. Since 1978, twelve chronosequences have been sampled and analyzed by members of this project, and methods have been established and used consistently for analysis of the samples.

The goals of this report are to:

  1. Document the methods used for the study on soil chronosequences,
  2. Present the results of tests that were run for precision, accuracy, and effectiveness, and
  3. Discuss our modifications to standard procedures.

Many of the methods presented herein are standard and have been reported elsewhere. However, we assume less prior analytical knowledge in our descriptions; thus, the manual should be easy to follow for the inexperienced analyst. Each chapter presents one or more references of the basic principle, an equipment and reagents list, and the detailed procedure. In some chapters this is followed by additional remarks or example calculations.

The flow diagram in figure 1 outlines the step-by-step procedures used to obtain and analyze soil samples for this study. The soils analyzed had a wide range of characteristics (such as clay content, mineralogy, salinity, and acidity). Initially, a major task was to test and select methods that could be applied and interpreted similarly for the various types of soils. Tests were conducted to establish the effectiveness and comparability of analytical techniques, and the data for such tests are included in figures, tables, and discussions. In addition, many replicate analyses of samples have established a "standard error" or "coefficient of variance" which indicates the average reproducibility of each laboratory procedure. These averaged errors are reported as percentage of a given value. For example, in particle-size determination, 3 percent error for 10 percent clay content equals 10 ± 0.3 percent clay. The error sources were examined to determine, for example, if the error in particle-size determination was dependent on clay content. No such biases were found, and data are reported as percent error in the text and in tables of reproducibility.

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Field and laboratory procedures used in a soil chronosequence study
Series title Bulletin
Series number 1648
DOI 10.3133/b1648
Year Published 1986
Language English
Publisher U.S. Government Printing Office
Publisher location Washington, D.C.
Description iv, 49 p.